High Strangeness: That Wasn't No Hullabillusion!

Friday, March 1, 2013

That Wasn't No Hullabillusion!

I must confess that I have an addiction. Over the past few days I have become hopelessly addicted to working on my J. Allen Hynek book, and have been ignoring my work, my wife, my children, my puppy, housework, paying bills, eating, drinking, sleeping, grooming, hygiene, reality, pretty much everything. And I don't care.

I am currently writing a sample chapter that deals with the amazing events of 1966, specifically the Michigan "swamp gas" case that simultaneously led to the downfall of the Air Force's Project Blue Book UFO research project, the national lampooning of Dr. Hynek, and, miraculously, his resurrection as the nation's most sought-after authority on UFOs. It's a hell of a story, and I am enjoying the hell out of putting it all down in words...

To recap: In March, 1966, there was a flap of UFO sightings in southern Michigan. Policemen chased strange lights in the sky, a farmer and his son stalked strange lights that floated above the swamp behind their house, and 87 coeds at a college watched strange lights appear and disappear in the Arboretum outside their dormitory windows. In case you didn't catch it, people were seeing a lot of strange lights.

The press got hold of it, and the strange lights became a national sensation. The Air Force, under pressure to come up with an explanation, sent Dr. Hynek to Michigan to investigate. He walked into a circus. Not a circus with clowns and elephants and anacondas, but a circus with reporters and Sheriff's Deputies and lots of crazy people. Hynek quickly decided that he could only realistically investigate the sighting behind the farmhouse and the sighting outside the college dormitory, and he spent the next three days doing just that. When the Air Force forced him to hold a press conference to announce his findings, he told the Air Force he didn't have any findings yet. The Air Force said, "Dammit, man, come up with some findings. The press conference is tomorrow."

It was at that time the biggest press conference ever held at the Detroit Press Club. Everybody was there to hear what the strange lights really were. Hynek said the strange lights may have been "swamp gas," and everyone went wild. He explained that this was only one possible explanation, and that he could not prove it in a court of law, but nobody really listened to that part, because they didn't like hearing things that weren't fun and sensational. Within hours, everyone in the country heard about the press conference and everyone in Michigan hated Hynek, because he basically said they were all fools.

"I'm just a simple fellow. I seen what I seen and nobody's going to tell me different," the farmer, Frank Mannor, told a reporter for LIFE magazine. "That wasn't no old foxfire of hullabillusion."

Why did Hynek say swamp gas? That is the crux of the story. Conventional UFO wisdom is that he made a colossal mistake and overlooked overwhelming evidence that the strange lights were in fact "flying objects," and perhaps even extraterrestrial vehicles. That is certainly what most UFO experts believed, as did just about every newspaper and TV network in the country. Many still feel that way, as I saw just today in another UFO blog, which makes a reference to "the famous Hynek 'Swamp Gas' gaff" (sic).
Frank Mannor, wordsmith.
But after all the research I've done, I'm thinking more and more that it wasn't a gaffe. I think the dude was spot on. The strange lights were swamp gas, or marsh gas, or foxfire, or will-o'-the-wisp, or whatever you want to call them. The strange lights at both the farm and the college appeared over marshland. They displayed identical properties as far as color, intensity and movement. At both locations they blinked out and reappeared in a different spot whenever anything approached.

And -- ta da! -- the most credible witness of them all, the local Civil Defense Director, the only man standing between Michigan and a Soviet nuclear attack, told Dr. Hynek that when he first saw the strange lights from the women's dormitory room (don't ask how he got there), he identified the strange lights as... marsh gas! (Then after the press conference, he crucified Hynek for identifying the lights as the same thing he identified them as. Classy.)

I am, I confess, surprised that I feel this way. For years I have believed the conventional story that Hynek had screwed up royally, and had missed a golden opportunity -- perhaps the only opportunity ever -- to finally prove to the world that UFOs were real. But now I'm pretty sure that he was right, and that those strange lights in Michigan were hullabillusions.


Anonymous said...

It would have been cool to see Dr. Hynek break into a cover of the song below during the press conference.


Mark UFO'Connell said...

Whoever you are, I love you for sending this!!

Anonymous said...